By: Kryptonian Detective
Batman: Under the Red Hood is the latest animated feature length film released under the DC Universe animated label. The film is an adaptation of the graphic novel Batman: Under the Hood Volumes 1 & 2 written by Judd Winick and Doug Mahnke. In the film, “Batman faces his ultimate challenge as the mysterious Red Hood takes Gotham City by firestorm. One part vigilante, one part criminal kingpin, Red Hood begins cleaning up Gotham with the efficiency of Batman, but without following the same ethical code. Killing is an option. And when the Joker falls in the balance between the two, hard truths are revealed and old wounds are reopened.” I have found, that with the exception of one or two, these DC Universe animated features have improved with each subsequent instalment. Batman: Under the Red Hood, for my money is the best of the lot to date. This effort is a successful, on two fundamental fronts. It satisfies the comic book purist in me, who appreciates watching a faithful rendition of the graphic novel on screen. It also is a very accessible film for new fans of Batman, who haven’t read the books.
The film gets right to the point and opens with the Joker holding the second Robin, Jason Todd, hostage in an abandoned warehouse, as he proceeds to beat Batman’s protégé to death with a crowbar. He then sets the building ablaze, Batman is too late, and is left holding Robin’s lifeless body in his arms, amidst the burning rubble, as the film cuts to the opening credits. When the film reopens the story jumps five years into the future. In the comic books this story line requires the reader to be aware of 20 years or so of continuity. The animated adaptation effectively and rather intelligently encompasses that twenty years into the opening scene, and some well placed flashbacks throughout the piece. This opening sets the pace and tone of the film. This film is fast paced, and dark. This is the darkest, most violent film of the animated films thus far. That is how it should be given the source material it is based on. Parents should heed the PG – 13 rating, if they have smaller children.
Batman: Under The Red Hood definitely has all the action and adventure that fans have come to expect from these DC Animation projects, but this is definitely something more. Once the Red Hood is revealed as the resurrected Jason Todd, the film becomes just as much of an emotional drama as it is action oriented. The film delves into Batman’s sense of personal blame and failure, Jason Todd’s quest for vengeance, and the Joker’s psychosis. This film is able to draw on these themes in part because of the animation. It is not overly stylised. There is a gritty realism to it that surpasses its comic book counterpart. That coupled with the filming techniques used for flashback scenes makes you forget you’re watching an animated feature. This film has the feel and quality of a live action film.
What really sells the story and the characters for me is the voice work done by the actors. The producers really assemble a group of top notch talent for this one and it comes through in the final product. Bruce Greenwood voices Batman and does really great work here. I can’t really compare him to the other actors who have voiced the character in the past. There is a maturity in his voice that is necessary for this story because Batman has been crime fighting for a while. There is sternness to his voice that would believably feel threatening to a criminal, but can also be mentoring and assertive to his allies. Jensen Ackles lends his voice to Jason Todd/Red Hood. His performance was just right for me. He had to play a tortured soul who was out for revenge and thought he was justified in doing so. Jensen made you believe that some part of the character still admired Batman, and that deep down the hero that once was, is still very much present. All these conflicting emotions can be found in the final scenes between Batman, the Joker, and Red Hood. Superb writing and acting in those scenes. The first Robin and current Nightwing, Dick Grayson was voiced by Neil Patrick Harris. I didn’t dislike Neil’s work as Nightwing. He did justice to Dick Grayson’s sly sense of humour. I’ve always found that the character has a brighter outlook on like then his mentor and Harris plays that well. By no means did the actor put in a bad performance, but in one instance his vocal performance irked me. In one scene Nightwing says to Batman, “for once, can’t you just say get in the car?” In that instance his vocal tone was exactly the same as his character Barney Stinson on How I Met Your Mother. This slightly detracted from his performance for me.
The stand out vocal performance for me was that of John Di Maggio as the Joker. This actor had the toughest job of all because of all the great renditions of the Joker by previous actors. John definitely put his own spin on the Joker, and he definitely owns the role. For me personally, I like his take on the character better then fan favourite Mark Hamill. I can’t really put this performance into words, but I’ll say, you have to see and hear it for yourself. In a word, fantastic!
Batman: Under the Red Hood is a great addition to the Batman film series. The question is in a film series that spans various live action and animated entries, where does it rank. In my opinion, Batman: Under the Red Hood is the best Batman animated project to date, and that includes the groundbreaking Batman: The Animated Series and the ever popular Batman: Mask of the Phantasm. Furthermore, I feel that Batman: Under the Red Hood is a great Batman film, deserving to be mentioned alongside Batman Begins, The Dark Knight and Batman.